The iJamming! Weekly Download: Home Of The Brave

“The School Board says he can’t come to school no more….”

What better way to celebrate the end of the school year, our own school board’s recent controversial vote, the conclusion of my chapters about the Brill Building era and the girl groups of the 1960s, and the 23nd Anniversary of Apocalypse’s break-up, than to offer up the original version of ‘Home Of The Brave’?

I first heard this recording by Bonnie & The Treasures, on a 7” single that belonged to my good friend Jeff Briginshaw. Being such a good friend, Jeff lent it to me. In time, once I realized that it fulfilled all my band’s needs for a cover version – it was sung by a little-known ‘girl group,’ it was produced by the great Phil Spector, it alluded to American culture in a negative way, and it was just a great great pop song – then I figured out the chords and taught my band mates Jeff Carrigan and Tony Page the lyrics as best as I could make them out. Given that it was sung by a girl in the third person, we changed all the “he” references to “you,” which seemed to personalize the song. Then I lost, or misplaced, the record. (I certainly never gave it back to Jeff Briginshaw: sorry, mate!) Our lyrics were never quite right, but the recorded Apocalypse version – produced by Overend Watts and Dale Griffin – was damn fine and still gets the thumbs-up from people today. And perhaps it’s only appropriate that, in the two years since the Apocalypse compilation CD was released in 2005, I’ve learned more about the song that I once believed could possibly have existed.

First up, in researching my book on the New York music scene, I had the pleasure of talking to the song’s composers, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil. Should their names not ring a bell, let me just list a few of their other compositions: ‘On Broadway,’ ‘You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling,’ ‘(You’re My) Soul and Inspiration)’, ‘Uptown,’ ‘Kicks,’ ‘Hungry,’ ‘We Gotta Get Outta This Place,’ ‘Blame It on the Bossa Nova,’ ‘Walkin’ In The Rain.’ Should I go on? They wrote approximately 1000 songs between them and are still at it today.

It was Barry Mann who told me, somewhat to my abject horror, that although the single did indeed appear on Phil Spector’s label, it was produced not by Spector himself but by one Jerry Riopelle. This sat uneasily with me because I was certain it was a Spector production. It certainly sounds like one. How could I have gotten that important fact so wrong?

The original Phi-Dan release. Note production credited to Jerry Riopelle.

Turns out I didn’t. And nor did Barry Mann. The original recording, on the Phi-Dan label, was credited to Jerry Riopelle. But on the single that I ‘liberated’ from my friend Jeff Briginshaw, reissued on the Phil Spector International label in the UK in 1976, the credit does indeed read ‘Produced by Phil Spector with the Wall of Sound Orchestra.’ Allow that one of Spector’s moves in the sixties was to record a new Crystals single ‘He’s A Rebel’ with session singer Darlene Love on lead vocals – something the Crystals only found out about when they heard it on the radio – and this won’t seem such a surprise.

The UK 1976 release I learned the song from. Note the production now credited to Spector himself. More info at Spectropop.

Rumors persisted for many years that ‘Bonnie’ was Ronnie, as in Ronnie Spector, of the Ronettes. Makes sense, huh? Only a couple of months ago I was given a home-burned CD, The Clydie King Story, collecting some of the material from the unsung (!) female session singer whose career stretched from Ray Charles to Lynyrd Skynyrd, Humble Pie and Bob Dylan. Smack in the center of the CD was ‘Home of the Brave.’ I then assumed that Clydie King must have been the mysterious ‘Bonnie.’

Now, thanks to Spectropop and its crack team of investigators, the mystery is solved. ‘Bonnie’ was Charlotte Ann Matheny, a session singer who also went by the name Charlotte O’Hara and Bonnie Graham. She died in 1976 – the year the single was reissued in the UK. Clydie King was one of the backing vocalists. Jerry Rapiole was indeed the producer – the first in an intended long line that Spector hired to imitate his sound. He was also the last. Fortunately, no one disputes that Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil wrote the song.

This is what happens if you go looking for answers; you get buried under the weight of minutia. My thanks to the people at the fantastically minutia-minded Spectropop web site for presenting a six-page web series of essays and interviews on the truth behind this one obscure song. I’m glad to know I’m not the only person who cares about it.

And then there’s the small matter of Judy Miller’s rendition, released the same week, and which actually beat Bonnie & The Treasures in the race up the charts in late 1965. (It reached #25 in the USA, and #49 in the UK; this may be evidence that Spector’s sound was on the way out by this point.) The Judy Miller record is much cleaner, almost country in tone, and you can actually hear the lyrics. (It’s “the PTA and all of the mothers say he ought to look like the others,” though I think our line, “The principal and all of the mothers say you ought to look like you ought to,” is no worse a rhyme. Oh, and the Miller’s version has different lines to the Treasures/Apocalypse version in the third verse; it starts with the lines “It really burns me up when they put him down/He’s the only one saying something in this whole town.”) Most people who know the song only know the more popular Judy Miller version; anorak that I am, I must be one of the only people who instead knew it all these years only by the more obscure ‘Spector’ recording.

Phil Spector was aggrieved that someone else should record and release the same song at the same time as him, though this was common practice in the 50s and 60s. He took out an ad in Billboard to complain. It didn’t work. The Bonnie & The Treasures version flopped; the Judy Miller recording went top 25.

While Judy Miller’s version is still out there on compilations (though not on iTunes, I’m afraid), ‘Home of The Brave’ by Bonnie & The Treasures has long been out of print; even in this CD-happy age, it appears to be commercially unavailable anywhere in the world. For that reason, I’ll host this MP3 for a few days, so as to share its magic with the rest of the world. I hope you love it as much as I do. The Apocalypse version is available for 99c/79p at iTunes.

‘Home of the Brave’ by Bonnie and the Treasure MP3

‘Home of the Brave’ by Apocalypse teaser MP3

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October 2021